What's your background? Did you study photography?
My parents were adventurous travellers in their youth and growing up we would relive some of the exotic places they visited through family slide nights. Dad shot a lot of Kodachrome slide film so we would sit in the dark and listen to him recall each place that cycled through the projector. I loved the theatre of it all and felt instantly transported to the dusty streets of Afghanistan or the plains of the Serengeti. Apart from a brief stint at Design school I am mostly self taught and didn't take up photography until I was in my early thirties.
Please describe your transition/journey of becoming a full time photographer today.
I got into photography whilst living in Barcelona where I was teaching English to Spanish kids but would spend my free time wandering the streets photographing anything that caught my eye.
After a year and a half in Barcelona I moved to London where I started assisting before moving back to New Zealand. I continued to assist for a few years before going out on my own. I started out shooting editorial assignments for magazines such as Metro, Kia Ora, Life & Leisure and Homestyle before moving into commercial/advertising work. I am currently represented by Proof agency.
How important is it to experiment as much as possible in order to build a successful portfolio - or is it better to focus on a particular genre from the get go?
I think some people know where their focus lies from the get go but for me its always been a bit of a journey, trying different genres to see what I liked. I think its great to experiment, it keeps things fresh and pushes you out of your comfort zone. I love being a photographer for the variety of people you meet and places you go, I would find it hard to limit myself to one genre. My photographic interests have changed and evolved as I have grown and will continue to do so.
What was your first camera and what do you shoot with nowadays?
Canon 350D and now Canon 5Dmkiii and 5DSR
Your first commissioned job?
My first significant commission was for a book called Food Heroes for Penguin Random House where I travelled the country photographing artisan food producers with writer Simon Farrell-Green. It was shot in a documentary style, telling the story of how they made their product and included some environmental portraits. It was great to meet so many inspiring, diverse people, tell their stories and travel to some beautiful parts of the country at such an early stage of my career. It opened my eyes to the possibility of being a full time photographer and the diverse life you could lead.
Your favourite project to date?
A week long road trip from Auckland to Mt Cook and back for Land Rover and Y&R. I've always loved traveling and seeing what's around the next bend. So it was pretty much my dream job to be set free in an amazing car to explore our beautiful country. The gist of the job was to photograph the latest Land Rover Discovery Sport at certain spots around the country. This was then turned into a social media campaign to increase engagement with their followers.
How would you describe your photographic style to someone viewing your work for the first time?
Natural, authentic, sometimes graphic.
How has photography changed from when you first started to what it is like today?
Obviously the gear has changed a lot but I think the fundamentals of photography remain the same. To tell a compelling story, have strong composition and the way in which you control light are just as important today as they were when photography was first invented.
What would your dream project be?
It changes daily but at the moment I would love to travel the coast around Sydney and photograph the ocean swimming pools and some of the characters that swim them on a regular basis. I was over there recently for work and went to the Mona Vale pool and got chatting to a weathered old chap in his eighties who had been swimming there since he was a nipper.
Can you make a successful living in New Zealand just as a full time photographer?
Yes, just takes a bit of graft/talent and lots of networking.
What advice would you have for someone just starting off photography?
Definitely go and assist other photographers first, the skills you learn on the job will help you build a solid foundation for your career. Be true to your self and style, thats what you will get hired for and what will set you apart from others. Be persistent!
To view more of Duncan's work: